Nicholas Quirke was not sure if it was the effect on him of working full time on 21 January 2021 or simply that his students were tired and fed up with having to endure studying English, but their behaviour seemed so bad that he could no longer keep a grip on his patience. By lunch time he had shouted, really shouted at them and eventually removed Amanda, who kept refusing to do any of the work he asked them complete, from the class. He had tolerated her behaviour the day before when the afternoons drama class had been sabotaged by her ‘pretence’ at having hurt her leg but her refusal to engage and then tearing up her vocabulary book simply infuriated him and added to the hideous noises that continually emitted from, Leon his Composure completely evaporated. The saving grace of the morning was the determined support of Hover who listened, answered all the comprehension questions and demonstrated empathy for ‘Mr Q’s’ plight. It was a relief when lunch came even though he had to eat the salad he had made and brought with him in the the same confines as his current nemesis. He started the afternoon drama class with an exhausting game of ‘Grandmothers Footsteps’ which they so enjoyed he managed to keep it going for 45 minutes. Mercifully, with an hour and thirty minutes break and some food inside them, their conduct improved dramatically and he realised that the presence of Leon in the mornings was a determining factor on how they behaved. This meant, although he physically exerted himself, he actually got some enjoyment out of the afternoon. Saving the end of the movie for the end of the day gave him the opportunity to sit down and they went home happy; hopefully looking forward to the final day. The news came in that all extra curricular schools were to close with effect from Monday which meant that the week of lessons that had been planned would be cancelled and he was looking at a week of Liberty. The sense that Covid 19 was too close for comfort was prevalent particularly since the UK mutant strain had come through Daxing Airport and the neighbouring Hebei province area had forced both areas into lockdown. The parents of some students wanted to squeeze one more class out of him and he reluctantly agreed to work an additional couple of hours on the next day. Peng’s conference was over and it was a relieved, happy Nicholas Quirke who returned home to the routine of an evening movie to relax to. Before which, he put enjoyed a session in the massage chair which he previously found painful but now felt its manifold benefits. The engrossing ‘Synchronic’ wove its sci-fi magic around him and feeling chilled out to the extreme he went to sleep.

Nicholas Quirke was entering the Chinese New Year celebration period which began on 20 January 2021. This is marked in China by Laba festival and like most of China’s celebrations there was special food to accompany the event. On the eighth day of the lunar month prior to Chinese New Year, the Laba holiday a traditional porridge, Laba porridge also called Eight Treasure Congee, a Chinese ceremonial congee dish, cooked with rice, beans, peanuts, dried fruit, lotus seeds, is served in remembrance of an ancient festival, called La, that occurred shortly after the winter solstice.  The congee is served at first light with the first bowl being offered to the ancestors. Pickles such as Laba garlic, which turns green from vinegar, are also made and eaten on this day. This meant his day started eating Jiaozi, a congee and cloves of garlic. Needless to say it was a fulfilling breakfast and one that broke his January raw food detox. As he had shed even more weight in the process he was happy to indulge for this one day to mark the important period. He still faced another day at work and at mid week he was already finding it something of a strain and looking forward to the end of the week. He taught the class for a 3 hour session in the morning on reading and they had finished ‘Aladdin’ and started on ‘Wind In The Willows’. The rustic English charm and life on the River Bank, despite the eccentricity of it’s characters did not hold the same appeal the adventures of the Eastern ‘Aladdin’ offered. It was a strain on his patience and the students seemed particularly wilful and work shy. The afternoon was a little more fun though when he asked them to use their imaginations to create a caravan, a boat and a motor car from the furniture in the room the result was singularly uninspiring. It was a relief when the day came to an end and he could head home. The online business conference was still taking place and it was another evening of doing his own thing which included a little de-cluttering of his own possessions which had been amassed during his year long journey. Another night with no movie and to accommodate his early start an early sleep.

Nicholas Quirke was not sure wether to be excited or distressed on 19 January 2021 when he pulled back the curtains to see the snow that covered the rooftops. It was a pleasant sight but he was going to have to navigate the weather to get to work and this meant braving the minus 8 temperature with a wind chill factor of minus 12. It sounded harsh and as he had to get to the Exit / Entry bureau in his lunch hour he was not looking forward to either journey. The roads were icy and there were official warnings not to cycle but he wanted to spend as little time in the cold as possible and when her saw an available bike he decided to take the risk. He felt well protected with his hat but as usual his hands were suffering even with gloves. The morning seemed to pass quickly and was relatively enjoyable and at 12 sharp he left the building to make his way to collect his passport. Typically there was no bike and he had to walk to the station. The Lama temple station where he had to get off was only 2 stops but with walking and there being no bike the other end too it took him almost 30 minutes. Collecting his documentation was smooth and easy but with only 15 minutes before he was due to start the afternoon class he wears going to have to cycle. Fortunately there was bike and he sped on his way. It was with some satisfaction that he walked into the class room at one minute past one. The afternoon drama class was a lot of fun and there was much laughter and enjoyment. But at 4pm his exit was equally swift with a visit to register at the police station which was due to shut at 5. It was all very giri giri but fortunately he was the only person registering and he was dealt with quickly and with familiarity. There was a plethora of parcels at the front gate including a trolly which he was able to load up and deliver to the apartment. It was another night of his own devices as Peng was attending the 3 hour long conference. There was not much fun to be had as he continued to attend to various outstanding, ongoing admin issues. He was tired by his days exertions and looked forward to a fitful sleep.

Nicholas Quirke was cold on 18 January 2021. There was a bitter wind blowing as he made his way to the first day of a week long reading and drama workshop at the school. It was a 9 am start and he left the apartment at 7.30 to make sure he was there to prepare for the long day ahead and really felt every atom of the minus 11 atmosphere . There was a 3 hour reading session in the morning with an hour and a half lunch followed by a 3 hour Drama session in the afternoon. This seemed an incredibly long time for children to focus and he felt for himself too. They were going to be reading ‘Aladdin’ and he had obtained the Disney animation and the live action versions to supplement the reading and performance. He had 4 students who seemed to be engaged and respond well to him. As he anticipated there were some troublesome moments but overall the students, Tony, Leon, Amanda and Hover were fun too be around. He trekked to the Galaxy Mall in search of a salad for lunch but ended up dining in Joy Express where he had eaten once before and his plate of cooked veg did not stray far from the raw food diet he had been adhering to. For the afternoon he only had 3 students and after playing some drama games the children enjoyed watching some scenes from the movie and translating this into a drama class made his life a little easier. The school had provided some props and costumes and it became apparent that they loved dressing up and finding the right hat or bit of jewellery for the role became a source of great entertainment for them. By the end of the 3 hours their attention and engagement were flagging which, was a sensation he shared with his pupils. Once the class finished he headed to Xuanwumen and Mobe, the hair salon he frequented for a much needed haircut. The staff were used to the laowai now and were playful when he got his camera out to record their Chinese New Year decorations. Peng worked for an international company who were holding a week long online conference which he had to attend and it left Nicholas to his own devices. With no time to pursue his usual pursuits he had to cram everything into the few spare hours he had and having already worked a full day his enthusiasm for it had waned. It also meant there was no time to relax and no movie viewing that evening. The sense of adventure and exploration that had motivated him for much of 2020 had now completely disappeared and as he went to sleep his thoughts were on the how his time had suddenly turned into a familiar routine pattern.

Nicholas Quirke was feeling the pace of Beijing life slightly overwhelming on 17 January 2021 as he had another day of work followed by a lunch in the city and once they returned to the apartment, the assembly of the new sofa due to be delivered that afternoon awaited him. It felt like a busy day ahead and when he left at 7.30 in the morning with a temperature of minus eleven degrees tearing at his cheeks and a number of other pressing issues to deal with too he wondered when he would get a break to write and publish his blog. A neighbouring Hutong had been sealed off from the public by blue screens as a resident , who was actually elsewhere in China, had contracted COVID 19 but to be safe, they had closed it down to all but residents. This meant that the pavement was now blocked and everyone had to walk in the road. The class were fortunately well behaved and he was able to get through the two hours with little trouble from the usually playful group. The minute it was over he cycled to the restaurant rendezvous with Peng at Haidilao Hot Pot. He was first to arrive and oddly pleased with himself for finding the basement venue. He was amazed by the restaurant, it’s staff who were immediately attentive and its unique modern style. The food for the hotpots was selected by robots and the diners were exposed to the sight of them operating. The service included a face changing dancer who treated him to a close up of his work, watching noodles being made at the table and to Peng’s annoyance, as a Laowai, he was given a gift bag including some very nice chopsticks. The food was perfect for his raw food diet. He had an enjoyable time and made the most of relaxing before they went home to tackle the construction of the sofa. The boxes were waiting outside the door and thus the task began. Like all Ikea furniture item was a straightforward process. It’s erection, however took nearly 3 hours and by the end their enthusiasm for the project had dwindled and left them feeling enervated and even the action movie they watched, ‘Open Water 2’ could not revive the flagging spirits. Nicholas wished he had enjoyed more rest as he faced a full week of 9 – 5 work, something he had not done for a number of years. For once sleep did not come easily but eventually it did creep upon him.

Nicholas Quirke was looking forward to the one day that he would not be working in the coming week on 16 January 2021. It was not however a day of rest as in the Chinese New year apartment refresh Peng had his eyes set on a sofa bed, as in the shift of furniture which happened with disposing of a cupboard the freezer section of the door could not fully open. This required him to tread very familiar and old ground with a trip to Ikea which he had not expected tied to go to again for a while. Things looked different as they too were gearing up for the New year and decorations were already on sale. They tested a few sofas and a fairly swift decision was made. After the purchase they headed to another familiar haunt where there were still some new plant based meat dishes Peng had not tried. They had only visited Jing Ding Xiang the previous week and Nicholas,still on his raw food diet, was not able to eat anything but a quinoa salad. He had gone prepared and taken his own salad with him. The atmosphere was full of energy and he looked forward to returning and being able to partake of some of the dishes. Once they got home he was put to work and carried the plethora of parcels that were waiting at the gate. The chores did not stop there as in preparation for the new sofa the bed had to be dismantled and disposed of. It seemed like a lot of work and energy and he was relieved to finally rest and watch a movie. ’Proxima’ seemed a promising French sci fi film, but turned out to be a feminist study of a woman handling the pressures of motherhood in the space programme. Fascinating subject but not the escapism he had craved. Instead he escaped into the nocturnal world of dreams.

Nicholas Quirke was spending the day working on 15 January 2020. He only had two classes but the work day was dragged out as there would be a long interruption due to an unfortunate lack of organisation from the school. It was pointless for him to go back home and he promised himself he would find somewhere to eat his lunch and work. If he had been feeling complacent about his skills as a teacher they were sorely tested that day when one of the children started mimicking what he was saying and refused to apologise resulting in a stand off which, he lost. The lesson got even more out of hand when the twins started fighting and throwing things around. It was this behaviour that he had no talent for handling other than attempting to be commanding which, was not very effective in the circumstances he found himself in. He finally managed to regain some control without resorting to help from the other teachers and actually elicited an apology from Yuda and got Alex and Anthony to apologise to each other. It was a relief when the lesson ended and he made his way to Utown Mall and Teasure. To his delight he managed to secure one of the private booths and he happily entrenched himself in it with a cup of tea and his lunch, not to emerge till 2.5 hours later. Back at the school his lesson with Sissi and another pair for twins was an easier matter and when Tim went rogue and sat under the table he found a simple way of managing the situation by filming him and threatening to send it to his parents. It felt like he had done very little, but by the time he was on the subway he felt tired from managing the pesky students and looked forward to an evening of nothing but watching a movie. They watched an intense Taiwanese drama ‘A Sun’ which was compelling but at nearly 3 hours too long and he lost the the ability to keep his eyes open and took himself to bed with the promise of finishing it the following night.

Nicholas Quirke was being low key on 14 January 2021 with his only expectation being a journey to the school to teach but it seemed more eventful than he had expected. His morning drifted past with a shopping trip to Riri Market, collecting parcels and preparing lunch though he was given food for thought as the new scales that had been purchased gave some microscopic detail to his body’s weight composition and he was dangerously dehydrated. This meant he was going to have to review his liquid intake and he made a plan to ensure he was getting a suitable amount of water inside him. To give some interest to his day he had decided to go yet again to a familiar tearooms near the school in the Galaxy Mall. His tea was uneventful and other than teaching the delightful Jean his lesson, without Lucia, passed without incident. He was annoyed by the inefficiency of the school leader, who had arranged for him to teach his two Friday lessons during the day at 10.30 and 1.30. To his dismay she had not informed the second class that there was a change and they were not free to attend during the day. Fortunately she managed to reschedule at 4pm rather than 6 so it was only 3.5 hours he needed to kill rather than 5.5. It still rankled that it was ill organised. Travelling home he envisioned a lazy night ahead in front of the television, however Peng had alternative plans as he wanted to dismantle another cupboard and Nicholas found himself again, sidekick and handyman to an endlessly restless home improver. The new year clear out was a serious business and there were still more changes and expenses to come. The clear out meant that there was no movie that night which, made a change and he spent some time reading before the final surprise of the evening which was the apartment losing all its water supply. This seemed to be a typically calculated action of the universe when his focus had only turned that day to his consumption of H20. No Proper shower, no proper toilet to end the day. He soothed away any irritations with a session in the massage chair and went to sleep.

Nicholas Quirke was used to his plans going awry and on 13 January 2020 when the majority of his day fizzled into an admin challenge he allowed himself to go with the flow rather than fight against the tide. It did not help that Peng had an attack of a recurrent back problem and that he found himself tending to the wounded. The prospects had looked good, and indeed his early morning chat with son Cole had given added impetus to his day, but once the weekly domestic chores had been completed and lunch was out of the way, completing his tax return turned into a mathematical conundrum and led to the discovery of a fraud charge on his account. He had thought completing the tax return for 2019 -2020 would be straightforward, but the logistics of calculating expenses and gathering data was time consuming. When he found that there was a charge from Amazon on a card he had not used for a couple of years and didn’t even know where it was, he was drawn into the rabbit hole of dealing with fraud and his bank. It was going to require a telephone call to multiple call centres as Before he could report the fraud to his bank he had to check with Amazon that it wasn’t legitimate. Making calls from China was not cheap and would probably end up costing the amount of the fraud. He was able to resolve the issue but at the cost of a completely uneventful day. His evening however proved to be less taxing and his spirits were buoyed by a trip to the local theatre. Peng had been reluctant to get seats for the ‘Fringe’ theatre at Xuanwumen and questioned the quality of low budget theatre, but as only someone with a China ID card could obtain tickets he agreed to accompany Nicholas. The show at the Star Theatre called ‘A Desperate Love’ had been in repertoire at the venue since its premiere in 2013 and for a performance to run, even only once a week for that number of years, its had to be pretty good. The studio space was really nice, but the seats were uncomfortable and for a performance that lasted over 2 hours with no interval it was difficult for him never mind Peng with his bad back. To his relief, the play was entrancing and in particular for his friend who had carped and complained about attending. Visually he could follow the plot but once again the subtleties of the language defeated him though with Peng at his side he was given occasional commentary on what was being said and he could follow the story of a young cynical man who found himself in his grandpa’s body during the Sino-Japanese war which aside from the humour that was to be gained from courting his own grandmother allowed the story to explore the roots of modern China and the coming of age of youth and China itself. It had many magical, imaginative elements and he was pleased to be leaving the theatre with a happy companion busy recommending the play to his family. The temperature had increased and at only minus 2 degrees it felt quite warm on the walk home compared to the conditions he had been getting used to to. It was late when they got home and that meant the usual end of day routine and sleep.

Nicholas Quirke was rarely given to feeling smug but on 12 January 2020 he had every reason to allow the warm sensation of satisfaction course through his bloodstream as the date marked exactly one year since he had set of on an adventure to the opposite side of the globe. When he had departed from St Pancras Station, seen off by his sister, sons and Grace, there was fear and excitement in his soul. Other than a train ride across Europe, Russia and Mongolia he had no fixed plan and absolutely no idea what the future held when he arrived in Beijing. But what an unexpected 365 days it had been. A Global disaster which everyone thought should, would curtail the journey and have him scurrying home had ended up keeping him from Englands shores and with the aid of the wonderful Guo Peng, whom he had the unbelievable fortune to meet, he had a home, had seen many of China’s cities, including some he shouldn’t have, had found himself in Korea and Japan , and had work that ensured he had money while he was here. It felt like success and he wanted to mark the occasion with something special. He had hoped to travel somewhere but with his new commitments he couldn’t fit in and instead chose to revisit the vast National Museum of China and soak up some the history and culture of this ancient, unpredictable civilisation. Firstly though he had a mission to get a new coffee blend from Nespresso in Tai Koo Li for Peng and journeyed across the city to the mall and to spend lunch in the Page One bookstore. For the first time in a long while he experienced problems getting into the museum. Firstly he pointlessly went through the security to get into Tiananmen Square as it appeared they had removed the ticket office. He then underwent rigorous questioning at the external box office and it also seemed they were surprised he wanted to visit. He didn’t have the QR code even though he had pre booked and he had to contact Peng to get that sent and then once inside he underwent a full body search and an inspection of the contents of his his bag. Though he had been before the hall was so vast he had only seen a fraction of its treasures and once he had been through the immense hall he went climbed the huge staircase and found some more galleries with some beautiful art work. He saw an exhibition of paintings of the Ming and Qing emperors, on the work Zhang Shulv whose combination of western and Chinese techniques and using chalks to create the paint revolutionised the traditional bird and flower paintings and a comprehensive exhibition of Chinese Drawing where 100 indigenous artists were invited to submit work. The range of style and content was amazing. He was satisfied that he had marked the anniversary in a suitable way and though he had hoped to see a Chinese film to end the day but instead they watched ‘Promising Young Woman’ which was as far away from a study of the Orient that you get and left him feeling very uneasy and a little bit queasy. It did not however stop him from sleeping